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Who Says Mathematicians Aren't Fashionable?

Diligent readers of a fashion spread in the Sept. 21 issue of The New York Times Magazine might have come across a striking photo with the following caption: "Annalisa Crannell wears a Proenza Schouler coat, Dries Van Noten dress and necklace; Marni belt."

Crannell is a mathematics professor at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., and a member of the MAA's Board of Governors. According to Crannell, the Times photo editor told her that she had come to the magazine's attention and been selected for this particular fashion spread because she had received the 2008 Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics.

The initial e-mail inquiry from the Times read: "I am writing regarding a feature in our annual college issue. The theme of this year's issue is teaching. As part of the issue we are including a photo portfolio in the style section of our magazine featuring college professors in various disciplines who've made an impact on the academic community through their teaching, research work, and often both. The editors of the issue thought carefully about who they wanted to see and read about in this issue, and we'd very much like to include you in the portfolio."

Crannell found out that the so-called photo portfolio was really about fashion. That "was pretty funny," she says, "because part of my Haimo speech included the price tags of the clothes I usually wear ($1 or less)." Nonetheless, she decided to participate.

The Times sent a crew down for a day to "doll me up," Crannell says. It took eight people three hours to get her looking "that good," she notes, "which is why I'm a mathematician and not a model."

The text accompanying the resulting photo did say that Crannell "doesn't dress—or teach—by the numbers." It went on to remark that she "tries to get students to explain mathematics to a nontechnical audience using real-world and fictional examples." Quoting Crannell, "It's very much like storytelling."

The photo, however, shows Crannell only from the knees up, cutting out the $2,500 Gucci boots that she was wearing. They were "pretty darned uncomfortable," Crannell says.

"The outfit they put on me that day cost more than my entire wardrobe for my entire life (even if you throw in my kids' clothes)!" Crannell says. And she didn’t get to keep any of it.—H. Waldman

News Date: 
Friday, September 26, 2008